Arun Shri Kumar and Aditya Chatterjee
On 7 March,
Aditya Chatterjee and I decided to volunteer sometime in the riot-hit areas of
Northeast Delhi, to help people seeking legal assistance. Here is a brief
account of our day, and some observations.
We set off
from East of Kailash at around 1 PM, and called a few lawyer groups whom we
knew to be volunteering on that day in the area, to understand how best we
could be of help. Someone suggested we join the SCBA-supported help desk at
Shiv Vihar, Karawal Nagar – and so we headed there.
Ruin of a Society
one hour journey took us to an overcrowded and forlorn neighbourhood that is
struggling to come to terms with the death and destruction it has witnessed.
One would not have celebrated this neighbourhood as an achievement of modern
India even in the pre-riot days: the streets were littered with garbage, and
the sewage flowed openly on the roads and into a nala that feeds eventually
into the Yamuna. The riots, however, added a layer of war-like destruction to a
society already ravaged by poverty and absence of government.
the SCBA desk (Aditya had been to this area the previous week to distribute
relief supplies, and was familiar with the territory) and joined a group of 4-5
advocates who were earnestly helping people with their paperwork. The task
before the team of lawyers was two-fold:
those seeking compensation fill out a form issued by the state government which
promises some basic compensation to those who have suffered any injuries, or
loss of property (including motorcycles, autorickshaws, cars etc), damage to
homes, or loss of businesses (ranging from Rs 15,000 to 10,00,000 in case of
death of a family member) writing down simple police complaints in Hindi, in
respect of any assault / injury or loss of property, to be lodged thereafter by
the lawyers with the jurisdictional police (in one of three neighbouring
stations, based on the situs of offence).
Hurt’ or ‘Simple Hurt’?
got down to penning the complaints and filling out forms, inviting people from
the milling crowd to come forward and share their stories.
case was a differently-abled Hindu man (he has no use of his legs), who peddles
around the city on a hand-peddled cycle-rickshaw begging for alms. He had
brought his own copy of the AAP government’s compensation form (crumpled and
folded in his pocket – clearly it was at least a few days old), and he wanted
my assistance in filling it. He had his Aadhaar card with him, but nothing else
by way of paperwork. His hand was tied in a soiled cast, and he said that he
had injured it when some rioters rained blows on him. He wanted me to classify
his case as ‘grievous hurt’, though the norms set out on the form would perhaps
only qualify him for compensation under the category ‘simple hurt’.
with his son, who promptly shared a picture with me (via WhatsApp) of his
father’s passbook: the account had been opened for him some years previously in
the Karkardooma court complex to deposit compensation that had been awarded to
him as the victim of a motor accident.
We needed a
photocopy of the Aadhaar card, and so a Muslim gentleman who was waiting his
turn volunteered to go and get a copy from the nearby shop. He refused to take
the Rs 2 we offered. (Our claimant had no money to make a photocopy.)
Factory, No Record of Insurance
case was that of a Muslim boy, aged only about 20 or so, whose elder brother
(aged 25) ran their family business – a ‘jeans pant’ stitching unit. Their
godown, in which 500+ pairs of jeans had reportedly been stored, had been burnt
to the ground in the riots. Their ‘factory’ (which sounded to me like it was
only a small shop premise, where labourers used to work on sewing machines) had
been looted, and thereafter burnt. He had brought photographs of both locations
to support the claim. He had already managed to lodge an FIR with the police,
and did not need our assistance for this. He assessed the loss of stock at Rs 8
lakh, and the loss of the ‘factory’ at Rs 10 lakh: the government scheme caps
compensation payable in the event of loss of business at Rs 5 lakh.
case was a Muslim gentleman whose motor car – a Hyundai i20 – had been burnt in
a massive parking lot fire. His insurance papers had apparently been kept in
the car, and he had no SMS or email record of his policy – he did not even know
which insurer he had taken a policy from. He was hoping to get whatever he
could from the government, as there was no hope of a recovery from any insurer.
Mob Identified Targets
person who came up to me was a Muslim lady – an NGO worker with 2 daughters and
2 sons – who had penned her own complaint in great detail, and was angry that
the police were refusing to register it for the past 8-10 days. She said she
had already met the SHO, the DCP and even the DCW Chairperson, to try and have
an FIR registered, and had even posted her complaint to the station, but there
was no help forthcoming.
the lady was adamant that she get to report the facts as she saw them: in fact,
she claimed that she also positively recognised two of the young men who had
led the mob into her house, as there had been some previous dispute between them
which had even resulted in a court case (and a settlement) a few months ago.
did not now recall their names, she was confident of pulling out the old court
records and identifying them to the police as the persons who had directed the
mob to her house. (This lady had been living in a rented accommodation atop the
house of a Hindu landlord, and her barsati room was allegedly identified only
because these two men had directed the mob there. Needless to state, her
landlord had evicted her after the incident.)
Woes, Hope For Compensation
case was that of a handicapped Muslim youth, who again was confined to a
hand-pedalled rickshaw (much like my first case). His father had brought him to
us, to complain that a small paan shop operated by the boy had been ransacked
and razed to the ground, thus leaving him with no means of livelihood. I asked
him to estimate the ‘loss’ to his business, as required by the claim form: he
confided that he had had only about Rs 200-300 kept in the stall (which was
stolen), and some leaves and paan which would not be worth more than Rs 1500.
The stall itself was demolished. He hoped the government would reimburse this
small an amount would likely not be worth either the paperwork or the wait, we
decided to recommend his case to the SCBA to arrange for some ad hoc payment
from donations being collected from the legal community.
I accompanied the man (a young chap called Shamshaad) and his father (who
pushed along his hand-rickshaw) to the spot half a kilometre or so down the
road, where the paan stall had once stood. It was barely 30 metres outside a
Hindu temple. Curiously, even though around 8-10 people vouched for the facts, only
one was willing to sign a witness statement – even though I took pains to
explain that this was not for any court case or police case (or even claim to
be made with the government) but only for our volunteer group’s own record.
had an old picture of the stall (attached). I took photos of what was left of
the spot today (also attached). He was hoping to get relief of about Rs 15,000
to restart his stall.
Pots, Broken Dreams & The Stench Of a Missing Administration
who claimed his pots had all been broken by the mob at his roadside stall
enquired if his case could also be recommended to the SCBA. However, he decided
to pursue his claim with the government only, and said he would come back the
following day with his Aadhaar card and past photos of his stall.
As I turned
back from the site to head back to the SCBA desk, I noticed the nala yet again.
It had woven its way to this part of the neighbourhood; I wondered how true the
rumours that suggest many more bodies will come to be found from here may be.
with three CRPF men stationed near the nala, and asked them if there was any
tension still in the area. Cautious at first, one of them soon opened up to me
when he learnt I was from Bengaluru – he had been stationed for years at the
CRPF post in Adugodi, and remarked that the weather on that day reminded him of
the 'ooru. (It was now quite overcast and windy.) He confided that some bodies
had been fished out from the drain over the week and sent to the morgues – but
the exercise of looking for more corpses had now been abandoned, he said,
because there were no more reports of missing people. (This is not true – as of
7 March there were several people still looking for missing relatives.)
Remains of the Day
Back at the
SCBA stall, I learnt that I had just missed Arundhati Roy and Saba Naqvi, who
had passed by and interacted with the volunteers at the desk.
clouds opened up, and we hurried into the house of a local Muslim gentleman who
was kind enough to arrange for tea and biscuits. There we divided the day’s
paperwork into separate bundles, and identified many where we would need to
call the complainants afresh the next day, since the paperwork was not complete
(for example, bank details not fully filled in, Aadhaar copy not enclosed,
photos of property damage not enclosed, etc). Some of the volunteers who had
manned the desk through the day had collected incomplete paperwork, and clearly
the processes agreed to had not been uniformly followed.
Conspicuously Absent State
There are a
lot of people, both young and old, with the energy, enthusiasm and resolve to
make a positive difference in these trying times, and they are hitting the
ground and also actively contributing their time. This includes: organising and
distributing relief materials, filing complaints, helping in getting medicines,
in one case, taking a pregnant lady to a nursing home to deliver, etc. But
these volunteer energies are not structured, and some of their efforts may lead
interface for volunteer groups with the State is not easy. We do not know how
many of the complaints we recorded on 7 March will be looked into at all, or
when – and how many of the claims will ever be processed for compensation. The
volunteers on the ground are only conduits, and cannot assure action – even
though the affected people all looked to us for assurance that we would get
their work done.
was, as of 7 March, entirely absent on the ground. It should, frankly, have
been the district administration taking steps to open these stalls and collect
paperwork from the affected, both for compensation claims and also for
assistance in filing police cases. If doorstep delivery of services is one of
the AAP’s achievements, it certainly can do better at this, especially at this
time, in the riot-hit zones.
Cannot & Should Not ‘Move On’
affected are all people on the margins – even the small business owners would
be in the city’s bottom 25 percent. These are not people with insurance, or
safety nets of any sort. The State is already failing them in every possible
way: it continues to fail them when they’ve been deprived of whatever little
they once had. The compensation amounts are meagre, and will not fully give
these people what they have lost.
to be more done to pin the Central government for not setting up any commission
of enquiry, not holding any persons accountable, not launching any
investigation into the larger ‘conspiracy’, and completely abdicating all
responsibility for relief to the riot-affected. These individual FIRs, even if
registered, will not result in any chargesheets or prosecutions, much less
convictions – it will be well nigh impossible for the State to pin individual
offenders, even if apprehended, to individual FIRs which are limited in scope.
The State must approach this differently to ensure the rioters face justice.
finally, we cannot and should not ‘move on’. This is a critical moment in
defining whether we are still a functioning democracy that has a semblance of
rule of law – if all institutions can wash their hands off on this one, we may
as well concede that we are just another ‘failed State’ in the neighbourhood.
Kumar is Founder-Partner at Keystone Partners, Delhi.
Chatterjee is a lawyer practicing in the Supreme Court of India and High Court
an opinion piece. The views expressed above are the authors’ own. New Age Islam
neither endorses nor is responsible for them.
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Headline: Northeast Delhi Violence: Why We Cannot & Should Not ‘Move On’
Source: The Quint